The welcomed departure from both set and setting is essential to the success of a bluegrass throwdown. Airing out the distractions that come with playing a relatively packed crowd, in a semi-swanky metropolitan downtown, are just the first hurdle.
Outside of Revolution, Fort Lauderdale's weekend warriors strut their stuff from club to bar, but last night, the Yonder Mountain String Band was inside, opening a portal to the Western Slope of Colorado with their high energy and hyper-technical breed of nu-grass revival.
The quirky quartet is fearlessly lead by mandolin extraordinaire Jeff Austin. His balance of on stage antics and shameless solo work was the cause for one hell of a jam.
Rumors circulating that the Infamous Stringdusters were going to open up the night were unfounded. Even though Stringduster's bassist Travis Book had been filling in for Yonder's Ben Kauffman during string of shows previous to last night, the curtain opening to reveal the original quartet from Boulder. It was all about Yonder on Friday night. No complaints here.
Easing into the first set with some classic, pure two-step greased the wheels early on. The crowd was bouncy, but not totally convinced that it was yet time to lose their inhibitions. Despite that, a noticeable buzz was building as the infectious banjo picking by Dave Johnson kindled a fire, tune after tune.
Somewhere in the blur of tightly executed foot stompers, the band departed from the traditional song structure and entered into a deep pocket of experimental improvisation. Lack of a drummer would usually pose a problem here, but the auditory trickery of these seasoned bluegrass veterans filled every space and hole. The use and lack of silence created a unique grassroots rhythm that replaced the need for percussion.
The jams eventually caught legs and the lights dimmed as the guys moved down deep into a more psychedelic grooves. The interplay between guitarist Adam Aijala and the rest of the band eventually found a destination in a "Free Bird" breakdown. Naturally, the Southern music enthusiasts that occupied the dance floor went ape shit, and the hoots and hollers matched the immortalized Skynyrd harmonization. As the band brought the medley back around, I swear they dropped the intro to moe.'s "Rebubula."
The fast-paced gratification coming from "Natchez Whistle" was only a short lull in the space-grass theme. "Peace of Mind" also opened windows for some powerful rock sections that showed the guy's ability to shred up and down the fret boards. Fully satisfied until the very last note, I could have left the show after the first half and been completely content.
Instead, the boisterous crowd took the set break as an opportunity to get (even more) rowdy. Drinks were flowing over laughs and feel-good banter. The natural aroma of a fresh harvest was also unmistakable. Not really needing any encouragement, the band returned to the stage and dropped into "Boatman's Dance." The room was a bit less full, but this only opened up space for full on gyrations and freestyle step dancing. Austin and Kauffman belted "dance, boatman dance, dance I say," possibly a direct nod to the Florida crowd, and in turn, the audience went wild.
It grew late as they presented presented fan favorites like "Left Me in A Hole," "Loved You Enough," and "Casualty" during their second set. Approaching over three hours of playing, the relentless assault never stopped. The band continued to drop a barrage of solos that had many with their eyes closed and jaws on the floor.
The highlight of the night came when the eerie bounce of "Funtime" segued into a humorous "Granny Won't You Smoke Some" in honor of the 14th Annual Medical Marijuana event going on at the same venue on Sunday. Keeping the green-friendly theme, the guys pushed into
1 a.m. with a fitting "Sharecroppers" encore that left those who soldiered through the night with a heavy natural high.
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